Vendee Globe: Upwind slog for race leaders

As Jean le Cam faces challenging conditions tomorrow at Cape Horn

Monday January 7th 2013, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

Francois Gabart on MACIF continues to eek out small gains against second placed Banque Populaire as the Vendee Globe race leaders exit the Roaring Forties and approach the latitude of Buenos Aires.

Image above courtesy of Expedition with GRIB files from Predictwind

Positions at 0800 UTC

Pos Skipper Boat Lat Long Spd Crs VMG Spd Dist DTF DTL
          1 hour aver     24hr aver      
 1 François Gabart MACIF 39°23.59'S 39°02.75'W 10.6 328° 6.3 9.7 233.9 5584.9 0
 2 Armel Le Cléac'h Banque Pop 39°34.51'S 41°48.13'W 10.2 60° 8.2 8.9 214.8 5643.3 58.4
 3 Jean-Pierre Dick Virbac No position              
 4 Alex Thomson Hugo Boss 45°57.29'S 51°00.10'W 13.3 42° 13 11.6 278.2 6164.9 580
 5 Jean Le Cam SynerCiel 54°53.82'S 76°32.26'W 14.2 121° 13.7 13.2 316.8 7329.6 1744.6
 6 Mike  Golding Gamesa 53°52.71'S 84°03.40'W 17.4 104° 17.4 14.8 355.3 7598.5 2013.5
 7 Dominique Wavre Mirabaud 54°04.40'S 85°47.55'W 15.3 98° 15.1 15.5 372.8 7652.9 2068
 8 Bernard Stamm Cheminees 54°20.96'S 86°35.11'W 15.3 95° 15 15.2 364 7674.6 2089.7
 9 Arnaud  Boissières Akena Verandas 54°22.37'S 92°30.34'W 13.3 106° 13.3 11.9 286.7 7872.8 2287.9
 10 Javier Sanso Acciona 54°33.37'S 92°39.52'W 11.3 110° 11.2 11.5 277 7874.8 2289.9
 11 Bertrand De Broc Votre nom 51°49.68'S 130°33.79'W 11.9 120° 11.1 11.7 279.7 9267.5 3682.6
 12 Tanguy  Delamotte Initiatives Coeur 49°04.82'S 137°01.02'W 14 137° 12.5 11.7 281.8 9547.7 3962.7
13 Alessandro Di Benedetto Team Plastique 50°35.93'S 159°40.09'W 10.7 92° 10.7 12.2 291.9 10418.7 4833.7
RET Vincent  Riou PRB Damage to hull and lower shroud after collision with drifting buoy (24 Nov)  
RET Zbigniew Gutowski  Energa Autopilot failure (21 Nov)            
RET Jérémie Beyou Maitre CoQ Broken hydraulic ram (19 Nov)            
RET Sam Davies Saveol Dismasted (15 Nov)              
RET Louis Burton Bureau Vallee Rammed by a fishing boat, rigging damage (14 Nov)        
RET Kito de Pavant Groupe Bel Rammed by a fishing boat, hull damage (12 Nov)        
RET Marc Guillemot Safran Titanium keel broke (10 Nov)            

MACIF and Banque Populaire continue to be on the wind and have spent the last 24 hours tacking on the shifts with MACIF continuing her passage north to the east of her rival. Gabart's tactics on MACIF seem to be working and over the last day has banked another 17 miles over his rival, his advantage now up to 58 miles - and this is despite him being further away from the great circle north.

At the latest sched the two boats are on converging tacks and are separated laterally across the race course by 128 miles. As a result they seeing different weather. MACIF is bashing into strong northerlies circulating around the St Helena high. Banque Populaire is on the eastern side of a secondary depression that has spun up ahead of the front associated with the giant depression off Cape Horn. Le Cleac'h is due to get some good news imminently as thanks to the movement of this secondary depression the wind is soon to back into the east, freeing but also getting lighter.

The weather over the next 24 hours is fast changing with the westerly shift being picked up later today by MACIF as the boats generally attempt to get northeast to avoid an area of high pressure developing tonight to the north of them, to the east of Uruguay. By tomorrow afternoon it is back to situation normal in northwesterlies on the southwest side of the high.

Yesterday Gabart reported: "There isn’t that much wind but honestly, if there were more, I’m not sure we’d go faster. We need to find the right position to face the depression that is coming. Sailing against the wind is always more difficult, it’s easy to understand, it’s just not a natural situation. There are many things that need to be anticipated and sometimes, the weather files aren’t very accurate. It takes instinct, too… I don’t know whether Armel will have the same route as me, I only know my own situation and choices, but our routes may converge again soon. Everything is fine on board, I did everything I could to make sure it is and stays that way. I know I have a very efficient boat, a fast one, which was great in the Southern Ocean, and hopefully will be all the way to the finish line. Let’s hope we have a crazy finish, with only a few miles between the two of us."

We don't have a position for Jean-Pierre Dick and Virbac Paprec 3 at the latest sched but at 0400 he appeared to have lost a little ground to the leaders over the last 24 hours. Virbac should be picking up speed this morning as the northwesterlies ahead of the front fill in once again. 

Fourth placed Hugo Boss is currently in lighter conditions as another secondary depression spawned by the front rolls over her. However the British boat should pick up speed today as she exits the centre of the depression into a band of strong northwesterlies as the secondary depression shifts southeast astern of them.

There is a lot of low pressure at Cape Horn at present! One mean-looking depression still generating all the weather for the four lead boats is situated between the Horn and the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula and at its centre is measuring 956mB. Creating a headache for Jean le Cam on SynerCiel is another equally intense depression centred some 230 miles due west of the Horn that is forming a meteorological road black for the French legend who currently lies 321 miles from the Horn. To stay in the favourable winds to the north of this, le Cam had to head much further north than he would like over the course yesterday, but has since gybed back to the southeast and is laying the Horn. Fortunately the depression he's currently tackling is due to be absorbed by the main depression later today, but will leave behind it a band of 30-40 knot WSWerlies for SynerCiel to round the Horn in tomorrow morning. Given this wind direction it is likely that le Cam will head down the Strait of Le Maire as the lead duo did. 

SynerCiel's circuitous route to the Horn has allowed the boats chasing to close significantly. Leader of this next group, Mike Golding on Gamesa, for example, was 330 miles behind SynerCiel yesterday morning, this deficit now down to 268 at the latest sched. However Golding will be feeling the pressure if he looks in the rear view mirror with Dominique Wavre on Mirabaud now 54 miles behind him, in turn being chased hard by Bernard Stamm on Cheminees Poujoulat, with Golding still in the north and Stamm on a track some 60 miles to his south. With the wind slightly lighter and into the WSW, the boats are currently laying the Horn with Golding in marginally more pressure.

Thankfully after a heinous 48 hours, conditions have now eased. This morning Golding reported: "I have just taken the reef out and to be honest it was probably a bit early. We still have some wild conditions but the 40 knot squalls are gone. Conditions have steadied a bit, there are less and less squalls. The rain showers we had with the stronger winds are gone for the moment and we are getting back towards 100% of boat speed for longer now and so we are making good time towards the Horn.

"I am okay. I have had some sleep about an hour ago and now once the boat is settled, I will start to pack some sleep in as much as I can so that I am really alert for Cape Horn. It is going to be a long, stressful 24 hours and I want to be able to ensure I can maximise my visual watch. There is not much light at night, there is just a crescent moon and I don’t have radar [working] so I will just have to keep my best visual watch that I can.

"So things are back to ‘normal’ . The seas have been horrendous. I have seen much worse [seas], but they have just been very confused. The slams have been bad from time to time and I have spent a lot of time trying to prevent the worst of it.

"The big slam last night was really …. it was a real bone cruncher. You could almost hear the boat breaking. I was at the nav station and I nearly put my head through the computer screen! It wasn't particularly bad for me as I was sitting on the cantilevered bench, when a big slam happens it takes the punch out of it, so not so bad for me, but a bone cruncher for the boat."

In the worst of the weather Golding lost his masthead anemometer providing vital wind data to the autopilot. Fortunately he has another. "I have switched over the wind wand and have another up top and up and running again. With one thing or another, I have had a fairly busy 24 hours. Long term, all these things are damaging you, but at the same time, you have to assume that everyone is having problems. You know if these things I have are the only damage, that’s fine by me. I’m sure that everyone has their problems and it is all evened out across the fleet.”

Looking back at the recent conditions Golding recalls, "It has been pretty tough. In the Southern Ocean there is bad weather, but then there is BAD weather. The bad weather you don't mind is when you put in a reef, hunker down a bit, drink a coffee and wait for it to finish. This was not like that, one minute it is 23, next 38 knots. 50 degrees squalls, that is how the slams happen. It has just gone on and on. Thankfully it's now over."

And on the ongoing problems that skippers have had with hydrogenerators, Golding remarks ruefully, "The theme of the race has been hydrogenerators. I think we have been beguiled into exchanging engine charging for them but as we have seen it is a riskier strategy. You have to think they are just not yet built to be hanging off the transom doing 20kts. When they are working it's great, but logically if you have something hanging in the water off the back of the boat at that speed, they will get damaged."


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